With Frank Joklik showing signs of losing his once-firm grip on the Olympic rings, some Games spotters are poised for his fall.
Calls for Joklik to step down, or aside, are beginning to add up to a chorus, fueling speculation about a possible change in the management structure at the Salt Lake Organizing Committee sooner rather than later.And if Joklik takes that step, insiders and outsiders alike say the search for a replacement is likely to focus on someone very much like him: a top-tier corporate executive with Utah ties, international credentials and the energy of an Olympic athlete.
"You want to find the brightest, most committed, most capable person around," said Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who offered to serve without pay when Tom Welch resigned in 1997. "Most importantly, it must be someone who has absolutely nothing to gain. The message must be sent to the public that the Games are theirs."
While Huntsman's name continues to appear near the top of almost every list of candidates for the top job at SLOC -- should it become available -- he discounts his chances. Also, Huntsman says he's not sure he wants it anymore.
"When it first came up a year and a half ago, I saw it as pure public service. We could have made a fresh start, made it the people's Games. Today, I'm afraid, the job is more one of crisis management," Huntsman said.
However, Huntsman and others note that speculation about new management may be premature. Joklik was still at his post Thursday morning and declining comment on suggestions that he and other SLOC officials take a leave, resign or be removed.
Nolan Karras, the governor's representative on the SLOC Board of Trustees, first raised the idea of a temporary administrative leave for SLOC officials back in mid-December. Trustees rejected the proposal then but will likely reconsider it when they meet Jan. 14.
That's because what was then an incipient scandal of interest mostly to the local media has evolved into four major investigations -- one of them by the U.S. Department of Justice; expressions of concern from corporate sponsors of the Games; loss of public confidence; and some political fallout.
A turning point came Monday when Gov. Mike Leavitt said at a hastily called press conference that the time had come for anyone involved in the scandal to step aside until the investigations are complete. While the governor didn't name any names, his message is being widely interpreted as applying to CEO Joklik, Vice President Dave Johnson and several other top officials.
Leavitt himself wouldn't say Thursday what he's doing with regard to the matter, other than "working hard to be able to quickly and completely resolve this . . . I am using my influence to shape the action of the board in a way I think will be productive."
Sources close to the governor said that means he's pushing for Joklik and Johnson to voluntarily accept administrative leave before SLOC trustees meet Jan. 14.
The executive board of the U.S. Olympic Committee has called a special meeting Friday in Salt Lake City. The gifts controversy is expected to be the main topic of the daylong meeting.
"The governor as good as fired Frank Joklik," said Steve Pace, an Olympics watchdog affiliated with Utahns For Responsible Spending. "Joklik won't escape with a clean bill of health even if he's found to be blameless in all of this."
Joklik must resign or be removed, Pace said, because the investigations could drag on for months, and SLOC can't afford to put off a rebuilding of its image for that long. Big-money sponsors are already getting nervous, Pace said, citing comments they've made to that effect in the national media.
According to Pace, SLOC can't begin to repolish its tarnished reputation until it replaces everyone even remotely connected to the scandal, including trustees who "knew or should have known" what was going on.
"You need to look outside the existing structure," Pace said, "someone with a stellar, heavyweight reputation who hasn't been tainted."
There are those who think a replacement for Joklik could be found from the ranks of the trustees -- specifically naming Karras, board chairman Bob Garff, banker Spencer Eccles and former Olympian Henry Marsh -- but Pace and other observers predict SLOC will have to look to the outside.
"I think you could pick people with Utah ties who have major credentials but no SLOC taint," Pace said. Like who? "Well, just pulling names out of the air," Pace pointed to Huntsman; former University of California and University of Utah President David P. Gardner; former presidential adviser Brent Scowcroft; and former Utah Rep. Wayne Owens.
An Olympics insider who was involved in the selection of both Welch and Joklik for their jobs said there was sentiment at the time to expand the search outside of the SLOC structure. It didn't happen because most voting members wanted to stick with someone "who had been a prime mover" in the bid.
But since all of those prime movers have, as Pace put it, been tainted by the "knew or should have known" rap, it's more important than ever not to limit the search to the inner circle, the insider said.
If trustees had not had such an obvious internal bias and been quick to shut down the search in 1997, they might have had a chance to land someone of the caliber of former Utah Jazz President Dave Checketts. Checketts, a Bountiful native who is CEO of New York's Madison Square Garden, withdrew his name from consideration early in the process in 1997 but is being widely mentioned again as a possible replacement for Joklik.
Ken Bullock, one of the SLOC trustees who was critical of the haste with which Welch was replaced by Joklik, said any search for such an important position must be thorough and unhurried.
"Whether we would have selected Frank (Joklik) or not isn't the issue," Bullock said. "Some of us just felt a little bit railroaded. The door had literally not even clicked shut before there was motion on the table. I'm not saying we needed several months, but it wouldn't have hurt to take a little more time and have more discussions."
Bullock said the national search that some people suggested for an Olympics boss was probably not necessary because of the talent pool in Utah and people with links to Utah.
Besides those already mentioned, names that continue to come up in almost every discussion of that Utah talent pool include Bill Marriott of the Marriott Corp.; WordPerfect founder Alan Ashton; Black & Decker Co. CEO Nolan Archibald; Ryder Systems Inc. CEO M. Anthony Burns; and Hyrum Smith, a Franklin Covey Co. director who was recently elected to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce board.
"By all means, the talent is here," Huntsman said. "There are people here who would truly put the Games first and foremost."
Deseret News staff writer Lisa Riley Roche contributed to this report.